A large scale study published last year shows evidence that workers who used Sahaja Yoga meditation, a kind of ‘mental-silence’ meditation, were less stressed and depressed compared to workers who used traditional relaxation techniques, or no treatment.
What did the study involve?
Researchers at Sydney University recruited volunteers who were working full-time and who experienced moderate occupational stress. Volunteers were then randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups. The volunteers either practiced ‘mental-silence’ meditation daily for eight weeks, or used more conventional relaxation techniques (which do not involve mental silence). A third group were put on a waiting list to be admitted to the meditation group at a later date, and therefore acted as a control group. The researchers monitored stress and depression levels during the course of the eight weeks.
What is the difference between mental-silence meditation and conventional relaxation techniques?
Mental silence meditation involves eliciting and maintaining a state of ‘thoughtless awareness’, by focusing on experiencing the present moment, rather than events in the past or future. This can be achieved using breathing techniques, affirmations and attention-focusing exercises. In contrast, the relaxation techniques taught to the volunteers involved sitting comfortably, breathing regularly and reflecting on the day’s events. The key difference seems to be that the meditation allowed mental activity to cease, while still remaining fully alert and in control.
What did the study find?
Volunteers in the meditation group showed a statistically significant improvement on measures of stress, anxiety and mood, compared to the relaxation and control group. The volunteers who meditated were less stressed, anxious and depressed compared to the group who used the relaxation techniques. Interestingly, the group who used the relaxation techniques did not score better than the control group.
What are the implications of this?
The “mental-silence” approach to meditation seems to be specifically effective in combating work-related stress and depression. Other studies have shown that there is indeed a meaningful link between how ‘silent’ our mental activity is, and how calm/peaceful we feel (Manocha et al, 2009), with lower levels of activity being associated with lower levels of psychological distress.
Scientists are still debating exactly why meditation seems to have these effects, with some saying that meditation simply reduces physiological arousal, and others saying that it ‘facilitates greater awareness’. The general consensus is that meditation is something more than just relaxation, and results from this study certainlydemonstrate this.
The implications of these findings are potentially huge. A survey in 2006 showed that around seven million Briton’s are seeking medical attention for stress related illnesses resulting in extra pressure on health services, as well as absenteeism in the workplace. This study shows that with a low-cost intervention like meditation, we can more successfully prevent and reduce stress, anxiety and depression which are becoming major problems in our society.
Read more about meditation research here: Researching Meditation
How Sahaja Yoga meditation works:
Read the meditation research paper
A survey about stress in the British population
Read the Manocha et al (2009) study